Smoke and ash from massive wildfires in the American West clouded the skies and triggered air quality alerts in parts of the East Coast on Wednesday as the effects of the fires were felt 2,500 miles (4,023 km) away.
Mist prevailed over New York City, New Jersey and Pennsylvania as strong winds blew smoke eastward from California, Oregon, Montana and other states on the other end of the country.
Oregon’s largest wildfire, the Bootleg Fire, has grown to 616 square miles (1,595 square kilometers) — just over half the size of Rhode Island. Fires also burned on both sides of California’s Sierra Nevada, Washington State and other areas in the west.
The smoke rising to the East Coast is reminiscent of last fall, when big fires raged in the worst Oregon wildfire season in recent memory, choking the local sky with smoke of pea soup, but it also affected air quality several thousand miles away. So far this year, Seattle and Portland have largely been spared the bad air as weather and winds push the smoke east.
People in parts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and other places with health problems such as heart disease and asthma have been told to avoid being outdoors. Air quality alerts for parts of the area were in effect through Thursday.
“We’re seeing a lot of fires that produce a huge amount of smoke, and … by the time the smoke reaches the eastern part of the country where it’s usually faint, there’s a lot of smoke in the atmosphere from all these fires,” said David Lawrence, a meteorologist National Weather Service: “It’s still pretty thick.” “Over the past two years, we’ve seen this phenomenon.”
The Oregon fire devastated the sparsely populated southern part of the state and was expanding at a rate of up to 4 miles (6 km) a day, driven by high winds and extreme dry weather that turned trees and shrubby vegetation into a powder box.
Fire crews had to pull out of the flames for 10 straight days as fireballs jump from treetop to treetop, trees explode, embers fly before the fire to start new fires, and in some cases, the heat of hell creates its own weather of changing winds and dry lightning. Vast clouds of smoke and ash rose up to 6 miles (10 kilometers) into the sky and could be seen for more than 100 air miles (161 kilometers).
Lower winds and temperatures on Tuesday allowed crews to improve fire lines, and they hoped for more progress on Wednesday, authorities in Oregon said. The fire was approaching an ancient burning area on its active southeast side, raising hopes that it would not spread as much.
A third of the fire, which is ignited by more than 2,200 people, has been contained. It was just a few hundred acres to become Oregon’s third largest wildfire in recent history.
At least 2,000 homes were evacuated at some point during the fire and another 5,000 were threatened. At least 70 homes and more than 100 outbuildings were burned, but no one was known to have died. Thick smoke hangs over the area where residents and wildlife alike contend with months of drought and scorching heat.
Extremely dry conditions and recent heat waves associated with climate change have made wildfires even more difficult. Climate change has made the West warmer and drier over the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and increase the frequency and destruction of wildfires.
Massive wildfires in western US bring fog to east coast الساحل
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